Deep Ellum Drinking Diaries
Why Adair's Saloon in Deep Ellum is God's kind of dive bar
On the first day, God made Adair’s Saloon and saw that it was good. On the second day, God chugged some Evan Williams and listened to Johnny Cash and Willie Nelson on the jukebox for eight hours. On the third day, with a wicked hangover, He invited some friends for a free concert and everyone drew all over the damn walls.
It’s basically been that way since the beginning. And though Adair’s got its start on Cedar Springs Road back in the ’60s, it has been a Deep Ellum institution since it moved to Commerce Street in the early ’80s.
There’s comfort in a good dive bar. They are, in one sense, timeless, as if they have always been and always will be. You experience the totality of decades of stories and drinks, of loves stoked by a great band, and of hearts mending on the wise words of old-school troubadours.
Adair’s Saloon has stood firm as an anchor for the neighborhood, providing a timeless refuge for thirsty citizens who know a good thing when they see it.
Nights spent at a good dive bar blur together to create a mosaic of tiny moments glazed over in cheap drinks for a grander picture. They engender emotional connections that “cleaner” establishments cannot produce.
At this point, Adair’s carries the kind of cachet that most bars don’t last long enough to earn. The leather on the barstools is cracked from wear, and the walls are filthy with permanent marker graffiti. Christmas lights are practically required of a dive bar, so it’s a good thing the bar is strewn with oversized bulbs that fell out of favor during the Carter administration everywhere except my parents’ house.
You can see live music every night for free at Adair’s, and although there are a few taps of Shiner and Miller Lite, no dive bar concert is really complete without a can of Lone Star and maybe a shot of Jack Daniel’s on the side. The gamut of musical acts runs from old-school country to the new wave of faux-Depression Era-cum-pseudo-gypsy jazz indie folk that requires flannel, suspenders and at least one mandolin or washboard.
In between, there’s some outlaw country and whiskey-soaked blues rock to be had. It’s like that crappy Modelo Especial commercial where they walk into a random dive bar and order Modelo and everyone gives them props and then the one guy plays The Sonics’ “Have Love Will Travel” and the bartender is so impressed that he offers his daughter up for marriage and nobody questions why they’re drinking freakin’ Modelo Especial at a dive bar.
Getting back on topic for just a second, a co-worker of mine once told me a story about Adair’s. Back in the day, she lived in Deep Ellum and would frequent Adair’s after work, because that’s what bars are for.
In a gesture of pure romance, her future husband told her for the first time that he loved her as they sat in a booth, the sun long down and a healthy amount of drinks split between them. Now they have a kid and everything. The Hallmark Channel even optioned the story for a movie featuring some blandly attractive people that were on a CBS procedural six years ago.
The last time I was at Adair’s, among the groups of hipsters (or whatever youths who wear T-shirts to bars are called) and, I don’t know, normal people playing shuffleboard and listening to the band, sat an elderly couple taking in the show. They appeared to be in their mid-70s, hanging out like going to Adair’s is what you do after dinner. That couple is awesome and the reason that “I’m just not feeling it tonight” can never be a good excuse not to go to a bar.
Deep Ellum trades on authenticity — phonies tend to have a way of disappearing — so it’s a testament to Adair’s Saloon that through all the years, both fat and lean, it has stood firm as an anchor for the neighborhood, providing a timeless refuge for thirsty citizens who know a good thing when they see it.
For as God told Abraham after the whole Isaac thing, “I know a place you should check out that’ll make you forget about all of this.”